Israeli Ministry Cancels Adult Education for Hundreds in Bedouin Towns

Axing of program mainly hurts women who made up majority of those who sought its high school equivalency degrees as an escape hatch from poverty and illiteracy

Bedouin city of Rahat, 2016
Yael Engelhart

The Education Ministry has halted an adult education program in Bedouin towns because the budget has run out. The program is meant to provide the students with the equivalent of a high school degree. The Education Ministry ran 24 classes in six Bedouin communities with over 500 students in the program, most of whom were women and many of whom are illiterate and lacking the most basic formal education.

The Education Ministry said the budget for the program, 2.2 million shekels ($610,000) a year, had run out and the program would be restarted “if a budget will be provided.” The program had been budgeted for five years and the Education Ministry said it was unable to find a source to continue funding the project. The program began in 2012, as part of a cabinet decision to promote economic growth and development in the Bedouin community.

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Students in the program studied Hebrew, Arabic and English, math, civics and computers. It was operated by the Israel Association of Community Centers, which won a competitive bidding process tendered by the Education Ministry. The ministry is being “small-minded, as if they don’t have any money,” a source in the Community Centers Association, who is familiar with the issue, told Haaretz.

The program has met with a number of social problems, but nonetheless it is important and should be continued, said the source. “This is a slow process of change, with a very underprivileged population. The husbands are not always supportive and won’t always allow the women to go and study. But it is such an important process, to integrate this group, to take the women who want to open their eyes and give them status in the family. There are also studies that show a link between the mother’s education and the child’s, so we should stop it? Over what, 2.5 million shekels?” he said.

W., 35 and from one of the Bedouin communities in the Negev, left school in eighth grade after she married. She joined the program and graduated with 12 years of schooling. If the program does not continue, it will be a harsh blow for Bedouin women, she said. “The man I was married to and most of my family did not agree for me to continue to study, they told me that it was unacceptable for a married woman to go and study,” said W.

After she divorced her husband, her family agreed for her to go back to school and in 2003 she began a program to complete her studies. After finishing it, she went on to study Hebrew literature in college and today she is a master’s degree student in educational counseling at the Ono Academic College. She also teaches Hebrew literature in the Amal schools. In addition, she is in charge of the program for students such as herself for completing their education in the Bedouin city of Rahat in the Negev, and the goal of this program is for everyone who starts it to finish their high school equivalency degree. W. says the program is committed to the education of its students, who go to class three to five days a week.

Many adults who began the program but did not graduate will not be able to continue their studies now. Kamal Abu Gadiya, a 38-year-old resident of Rahat, left school in 11th grade. While in general the women were forced to quit school, Abu Gadiya says it was his own decision to drop out. “I was young and it was boring in school, so I went with my friends and we would hang around, smoke cigarettes.

“After that I went straight into the army,” he says. He joined the program last year and after testing, was put in the equivalent of 10th grade. “We have finished all the semester’s exams already: Hebrew, Arabic, English, [basic] math and computers. To stop everything now before I finished is a waste.”

For Abu Gadiya, studying is a necessity because he was injured while working as a security guard and he has a 20 percent disability. He can no longer work in manual labor and realized that in order to advance and find work he must develop his studying skills. He said that at the employment office they offered to let him complete his high school studies as part of the program after they found it difficult to find appropriate work for him. Now he says he wants to get a college degree after finishing the program. “Without this program, I have no money,” says Abu Gadiya. “There is no way I could finish 12 years of school and go to college.”

Samia al-Krenawi, 44 and a resident of Rahat, left school in seventh grade after her father demanded it. She wants to open a tourism business so she decided to return to school and improve her Hebrew skills. “I didn’t finish my studies 30 years ago so it was hard for me to speak Hebrew,” she said.

“There are words that I can’t say, understand how to speak, how to act. I wanted to study speech. To learn in Hebrew.” Al-Krenawi plans on setting up a center for tourists in her home soon, where people will come to learn about Bedouin culture. “I studied Hebrew and English too, but I didn’t do enough English, I didn’t have time. I plan on doing the course again,” she added.

In July, the mayor of Rahat, Talal al-Krenawi, who is also the chairman of the forum of Bedouin local governments, sent a letter to Education Minister Naftali Bennett about the program. The program is important and contributes greatly to reducing inequality in Israeli society, he wrote. “It has a multi-generational impact on women, children and families in general, and on the communities.”

“In recent years, a large and complex change has been underway in Bedouin society in the south and a growing willingness exists for the integration of young women, most of whom are mothers, who for various social and personal reasons have not been provided with the possibility of finishing their studies,” said al-Krenawi.